Hamilton will have to win two road games to make third straight Grey Cup appearance

HAMILTON — Safety Tunde Adeleke and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will have to become road warriors to make another Grey Cup appearance.

Hamilton (8-10) visits the Montreal Alouettes (9-9) in the East Division semifinal Sunday. The winner faces the Toronto Argonauts (11-7) in the conference final Nov. 13 at BMO Field.

Three years ago, Adeleke and the Ticats had to win just one home playoff game to reach the Grey Cup after finishing first in the East. Last year, Hamilton earned home field for the division semifinal (beating Montreal 23-12) after finishing second, then dispatched Toronto 27-19 at BMO Field to reach a second straight CFL title game.

Hamilton lost to Winnipeg in both Grey Cup games, including a gut-wrenching 33-25 overtime decision last year at Tim Hortons Field. But after finishing third in the East, the Ticats will open the post-season playing before a loud, hostile Molson Stadium gathering.

"When we're home, we have the Ticats fans who are some of the best in the league," Adeleke said. "Having them behind your back and being loud at the right time, it's one of the best advantages of being at home.

"But we're all pro football players and we play half of our games away. Yeah, it's different, they're going to have their fans but this is playoff football."

Part of Hamilton's preparation this week has been dealing with the expected crowd noise.

"Their crowd is obviously going to play a factor, (Molson Stadium) is always a tough place to play," said Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer. "We can't control it but obviously if you put points on the board and are able to get control of a football game that usually helps subside it.

"But even so, they're going to back their football team regardless of where they're at in the game."

Hamilton had a 2-7 road record this season, but both wins came in their two most recent contests away from Tim Hortons Field. The Ticats have pretty much been in playoff mode for the last month and responded by finishing the regular season with four straight victories.

"I think the big thing in the CFL … it's how you finish," Adeleke said. "You just have to get hot at the right time and right now we're playing good football and we're not even at our peak yet.

"There's been previous years (where) we've played hot the whole year and got cold at the wrong time. Probably 90 per cent of the team has experienced that and that's not what we're trying to be a part of."

The Alouettes haven't won a playoff game since 2014 and have beaten Hamilton just once in eight post-season contests since returning to the CFL in 1996.

Montreal captured the season series 2-1 as the home team emerged victorious each time. The Alouettes also enter the post-season having won seven of their final 10 regular-season games.

"We've lost our last two games to them (29-28 on Aug. 20, 23-16 on Sept. 23) so we've just got to play our best football," Adeleke said. "What happened in previous years has nothing to do with this year."

Montreal was fourth overall in offensive points (24 per game) and offensive TDs (41). Quarterback Trevor Harris was third in passing (4,157 yards) and had 20 TDs and 12 interceptions while completing 71.6 per cent of his passes.

"He's a very good rhythm quarterback," Adeleke said. "If you let him get a little bit of rhythm, like three or four completions, he's just going to feed off that and keep going.

"You have to disrupt him and you've got to disrupt that offence."

Montreal allowed 47 sacks this season, seventh-most in the CFL. Hamilton's defence recorded 42 sacks to rank fourth overall in that category.

But In 2018, Harris threw a playoff-record six TD passes in the Ottawa Redblacks 46-27 East final win over Hamilton. He completed 29-of-32 passes (playoff record 90.6 completion percentage) to 10 different receivers for 367 yards.

"He can get hot in a hurry, he's proven it," said Steinauer. "He's got them on a roll, he's helped get them to a home playoff game.

"That's the history, that's the resume and the lead-up is fun but you've got to play the game."

Montreal also has the East Division's outstanding player nominee in receiver Eugene Lewis (91 catches, 1,303 yards, 10 TDs). The offence features a three-headed rushing attack that includes William Stanback, last year's rushing leader who missed much of the regular season with an ankle injury.

The other running backs are Canadian Jeshrun Antwi and American Walter Fletcher. Montreal's ground game was ranked sixth overall (93.2 yards per game) while Hamilton allowed a CFL-low 82.9 yards rushing this season.

"Everyone knows they have a good receiving corps and with Stanback back, they have a solid group of running backs," Adeleke said. "They (backs) all have a little bit different running style and you understand some are trying to beat you with speed and some are trying to use power.

"They're all very different and we prepare for that every day."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press